What is the Chinese symbol for gay

China's "therapy" against homosexuality

Hong Kong / Vienna - "My mother started screaming. She yelled that unfortunate things were going to happen to our family. My father fell on his knees in front of me, cried and threatened suicide," recalls Xu Zhen. Shortly before that, he had told his parents that he was gay.

"What else should I have done?", The young Chinese justifies himself for allowing his family to force him into so-called "conversion therapy". A therapy that many Chinese involuntarily take under pressure from their families, as the human rights organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported in a report published on Wednesday.

No change possible

Homosexuality has been legal in China since 1997, and has not been listed as a mental illness since 2001. "There is no solid scientific evidence that the innate sexual orientation can be changed," said a broadcast from the global psychiatric association WPA, of which China is a member, just last year.

And yet families force their homosexual relatives into hospitals - sometimes with the use of force. According to HRW, unknown drugs are given orally or injected there. In some cases they are hooked up to stun guns. "They are shown films with gay sex, for example," says HRW researcher Maya Wang about the STANDARD: "If they are aroused, they are given electric shocks." Without any impact on their sexual orientation, as stated by all of the subjects interviewed for the report.

Court rulings against therapies

According to Wang, one of the reasons for the conservative family image is China's one-child policy, which has now been abolished: "People are under enormous pressure to present their parents with an offspring - preferably a male one," she says. Also, by September this year, it was very easy to get licensed as a psychological counselor. In the meantime, the Chinese leadership has reacted and suspended the approvals.

Even Chinese courts believe that such "conversion therapy" is illegal. In 2014 and this year, two judges upheld the complaints of those affected who were forcibly committed. Following the verdict in July this year, a mental hospital had to pay an apology in local media and 5,000 yuan in compensation. "However, the Chinese legal system has no precedents," says Wang, "so the two judgments did not have a broad impact."

Growing acceptance in society

The leadership in Beijing has gradually tackled homosexuality in public over the past few years. In March 2016, it banned the representation of homosexuals in TV productions. In July 2017, the crackdown on LGBT content on the Internet finally followed.

On the other hand, there is increasing acceptance in Chinese society. The homosexual communities are growing in the metropolises. "The best way to encourage homosexuals who still live in hiding is to loosen control over civil society," urges the HRW researcher. Activists need to go public without censorship so that people can see that it's "okay to be gay," says Wang. (Bianca Blei, November 15, 2017)